Judge denies new trial
After a hearing that lasted about an hour, Judge Rex Henry Ogle ruled there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in the murder trial of Jacob Stanton and no reason to hold a new trial.
Defense attorneys argued they had found more than a dozen grounds for a new trial, including what they believed were examples of errors by Ogle and misconduct by the jury.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Ogle said he believed the case was fairly contested and that the jury had enough evidence to reach its verdict that Stanton was guilty of second-degree murder.
“The court does not think at all that there was any intentional misconduct on behalf of the state,” Ogle said, later adding, “There was more than sufficient evidence to justify the verdict.”
Stanton was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Leah Avril.
The defense argued as part of its motion that Ogle should not have allowed a pathologist called to review the cause of death to also offer what attorney Bryce McKenzie argued was unqualified expert testimony about firearms. Defense attorney Joe Baker had agreed beforehand that Dr. Steven Cogswell could testify as an expert witness about the results of the autopsy he performed on Avril, but he had not agreed to let Cogswell testify about guns. Cogswell testified during the trial that he didn’t believe the gun that Avril could have discharged accidentally, as Stanton claimed to police.
During the trial, Baker cross examined Cogswell but raised a late objection to his testimony as an expert.
Prosecutor Tim Norris argued Monday that Baker was allowed to cross examine Cogswell on that topic, and that his objection came too late.
“It would be very confusing to the jury to have to parse out his statement,” Norris said.
The defense had argued that Norris and another prosecutor, Barry Williams, should not have allowed an inmate to testify about incriminating statements Stanton he claimed Stanton had made, noting another inmate called by the state recanted a similar story and said the two had hatched a scheme to frame Stanton to get a lesser sentence.
But Ogle said the issue of which witness was credible was still an issue for the jury to consider, and noted if they had believed the first inmate they could have convicted Stanton of first-degree murder.
Likewise, the judge said, the question of whether Avril could be heard on a 911 recording saying Jake shot her was something the jury could decide for itself. Norris pointed out that portion of the recording in the his closing argument.
Ogle noted Stanton had admitted as much himself, although he maintained the gun discharged by accident.
That, the judge noted several times, was the crux of the case.
“I think the ultimate issue here is the state of mind of the defendant,” Ogle said.
While Ogle ultimately overruled all the grounds for a new trial offered by the defense, Stanton still has the chance to file a number of additional appeals.
Hearings on the case could continue for several years, and family members and friends from both sides were in court Monday.
Stanton’s family declined to comment on the process Monday.
Avril’s sister, Amy Thomason, said she wished he would accept the decision and the sentence, and let her family move on.
“He should be happy he only got 25 years,” she said.